The population of white students in Metro Nashville Public Schools is continuing to decline, according to recent data from the Tennessee Department of Education, in what one school board member on Monday referred to as a 13-year-long “exodus.”
In the 2006-2007 school year, 28,483 students considered by the district to be “white” were enrolled in Nashville’s public schools, making up 36.2 percent of Metro’s 70,140 students, according to the 2007 Tennessee Department of Education Report Card of public schools.
That’s a decline of 1,477 students from last year, and equal to about a 10 percent decline in white students since reported figures in 2004, according to Report Card information. Ten years ago, the 1997 Report Card reported that 54.1 percent of Metro’s 69,588 students were white, or about 37,650 students.
School board member David Fox, of the Hillsboro district, said Metro’s population of white students has declined by about 1,100 students annually for about the last 13 years.
“There’s been a significant exodus of white students,” Fox said. “I don’t think that the underlying demographics of the county explain it.”
Anecdotal evidence, Fox said, suggests members of this group of students are moving to private schools, and to schools outside of Davidson County.
Claire Smrekar, a Vanderbilt University researcher, said about 18 to 19 percent of Davidson County kids are enrolled in private schools, according to a study completed about two years ago.
Interviews with community members and school board members, at the time of the study, indicated that percentage had stayed about the same since the 1970s, when court-ordered desegregation, Smrekar said, “triggered a period of white flight either out of the county or into private schools.”
Statistics in the 2007 Report Card indicated another noteworthy change in the racial mix of Metro schools — the number of students reported as “black” declined slightly, in what school board member George Thompson of the North Nashville district said is the first decline in the number of that student population in many years.
“The black population had been increasing, and correspondingly the white population had been decreasing,” Thompson said. “[Now,] the white population is leaving. The black population, for the most part, is remaining static…. We have a majority minority school system.”
In the meantime, Thompson said, the district’s population of students reported as “Hispanic” has “exploded” — Metro Nashville had 10,467 Hispanic students enrolled last year, a 9.1 increase from last year, according to information from the Report Card.
Thompson said he considers a broad racial mix desirable, and that he prefers to see, “a high degree of diversity, rather than have pockets of different ethnic groups concentrated in certain areas.”
Fox — along with Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce Education Officer Marc Hill — said a goal of the district should be continued improvement of public schools for all students, and improving school performance to the extent that all kinds of families believe public schools meet their needs.
“The ability to adequately fund schools depends in part on having a broad spectrum of the population,” Fox said. “It would be preferable to see market acceptance of schools. A lot of taxpayers can vote with their feet or their checkbooks.”
Hill said, “We are very interested in making sure our schools are a viable option for every student in the city…. Clearly we’re at a crossroads where we need to make more dramatic progress in improving all of our schools.”